Last night we watched a BBC adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The Bronte sisters lived in Yorkshire in the mid-1800’s, and were the children of a minister. But the three sisters seemed to have a drive for independence and survival that I recognize to this day in the Yorkshire culture. The Bronte sisters sat around their table and wrote, works that were eventually published.
It was a hard life, fought against death, starvation, unemployment, and a religious fanaticism that is recognizable in the various forms of fundamentalism today, whose leaders believe that anyone who disagrees with them is disobeying the sacred word of God, and whose salvation depends on being given a taste of hell on earth.
Jane Eyre was subject to the humiliation and beatings deserved by anyone arrogant enough to stand up for herself.
In one scene which I doubt I will forget in my lifetime, Jane is being publicly castigated. “Do you know what happens to people who go to hell?” she is asked. “Yes, sir,” she replies, “they burn in fire forever.” “And do you know what you have to do to avoid going to hell?” the minister demands. “Yes, sir,” Jane answered. “You have to live a healthy life so you don’t die too soon.”
I love it! At Jane’s age, I was too good at knowing the Right Answers to have come up with an answer that so obviously violated the Truth with which Jane was being so ruthlessly beaten. In fact, even though I openly disagreed with my superiors when I was a nun, it was still with the conviction that I had the Right Answers. I had Vatican II on my side, after all, and John Kennedy, and Karl Rahner.
Now at least I know there are a lot of ways to be Right.
And, I fear, even more ways to be Wrong.